Wednesday, July 13, 2016



I was just a kid reporter when I learned first-hand of the bureaucratic hypocrisy of the Canada Revenue Agency or whatever its name was back in the day.
I answered a phone on the rewrite desk of the lamented Telegram and an official voice dripping with pomposity demanded to speak to the City Editor, the formidable Art Cole.
I had seen Cole make grown men cry and turn white with anxiety about their job so I asked naturally about the purpose. I didn't want to make Cole mad. I was answered by a cold "he will want to speak to me. "
I eavesdropped, of course. And I learned this was an income tax official spilling the beans about one of their coups in getting a lot more money out of some public figure.
And so I was inducted into the shadow world of government where bureaucrats routinely hide behind confidentiality shields and protecting the rights to privacy of citizens unless it suits their purpose not to.
Over  the years I grew familiar with the CRA apparatchiks who routinely called and told us of court cases and charges. Later I became the City Editor myself -  I would like to think kinder than Cole who had hired me and was a nice guy privately - and got these tips.
And they bugged me even before I became familiar with the rudeness and corporate deafness of our functionaries in dealing with too many complaints.
There was something unseemly about an agency with a deliberate policy of ensuring its victims financially also suffered bad publicity. I knew enough horror stories from the accountants I have used for decades to know that not all of those who lose out in the struggles with the mandarins are guilty of tax evasion.
They just lost out in the roulette game of whether the pencil posters  who came to deal with them were actually bright and informed or dumb as an old wooden desk.
Now I'm not in favour of people ducking taxes. This just means that you and I and all the others who don't scoff routinely at all laws and rules just have to pay more than our share. And to hell with that! But just about everyone has a horror story, and not just the accountants.
The legendary Arthur Gelgoot, accountant to the famous and the humble, once interrupted our annual session to say he just had to take this phone call.
He poured torrents of red-hot invective over some civil servant who was following up a threat of prison or execution for the Gelgoot family if it didn't settle the accounts of their father who had died.
Turns out one main stumbling point for the CRA was that the father had a huge GST debt, but as Gelgoot explained in a stunning display of curses, the father had been retired for many years, long before the GST was inflicted on us, and had never had anything to do with that odious sales tax.
Therefore, the "debt" was a fabrication built by the suits from BS, red tape, bureaucratese and lies (which may be the same thing.)
As a consequence, perhaps, some rookie tax regulator showed up and occupied a desk in Gelgoot's office for six months and never found a damn thing with any of his client accounts.
Now if only Arthur was around to get that HST refund that the CRA has been saying I've been owed since 2011 but never get around to sending to me.
My accountant, who was one of Arthur's associates, made a real drive a year ago to get that refund. Nothing ever happened that afternoon. A form hadn't been filed, it was claimed, so we filed it, and then we were told by a new official that the form hadn't been filed, so we filed it, and then we were told by yet a third official that a form hadn't been filed, so we filed, and then we were.....
Still don't have the money.
Thought of the CRA yesterday when I took a large refund that Mary got to the TD branch at Bloor and Jackson. Teller said that the CRA has been insisting for two months that all of their cheques over $1,500 must be verified by the agency over the telephone first.
I pointed out that there was enough money in the account to cover the cheque three times. And I was depositing it. Teller shrugged and said that was the new rule. So I waited and waited while he phoned so that I could deposit a cheque, which was basically just a return of some of Mary's  payments because the CRA had demanded too much in instalments last May.
I hate this drive by the taxcrats to force us to use computers as much as possible, as if everyone in the country is computer literate and has a computer that works every day. Come of think of it, that  combination is not possible.
I went to send some money to the CRA the other day and found that in this case, I couldn't do it except through a bank after it had deducted its paper cut of a fee.  Yet the federal drumbeat continues to drive us to a paperless society, except in their case where they will make four copies of everything. Banking and taxes are simpler now, they say, but not to the large number of pensioners who know from experience that they aren't.
Even if the computers were bug-proof, their input is garbage in the hands of the incompetent official. Do we really think the cream of our graduates want to do taxes? Years ago Mary ran into an old school friend. Nice, she told me, but really not quick. What does she do now, I asked? She is a supervisor for the CRA, Mary said. That figured, I said.
I confess that I used the CRA tip line once myself.  Southern Ontario in the days before IKEA was dotted with cities and town with their own furniture factories.
 My grandfather, who had taken in my sisters and I as three orphans,  had laboured for peanuts in one such factory until 72 because there was no pension and not much chance to build any savings. He died three weeks after he could no longer work.
I found out that the owners of the factory had some income tax trouble and had Ron Collister, later a CBC personality, dig around in the CRA.  Turned out they had trouble, indeed, even involving the selling of church pews with the money deposited in a secret Buffalo account.
The Tely ran the story on page one. And I found out that revenge actually can be sweet.